Getting to Know FRED: Introducing Workflows for Born-Digital Content

by Alice Prael and Amy Wickner, University of Maryland Libraries

Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) at the University of Maryland Libraries have accepted born-digital content from donors for the past ten years and these donations have grown exponentially over the last few years. Born-digital acquisitions will continue to grow as modern record-keeping moves to exclusively digital formats. Despite the volume of data acquired, almost none of it has been processed into the Libraries’ digital collections for long-term preservation and access. Hard drives and other digital storage media have instead been processed like paper material and placed in boxes, often with printed copies of file inventories or of the digital contents. This can only be a temporary solution as digital storage is susceptible to degradation. As born-digital donations grow, so will the need to protect this data in long-term digital storage.

In 2012, the University of Maryland Libraries and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) recognized these risks and created the Born-Digital Working Group to address these issues. The working group consisted of staff from SCUA, Digital Systems and Stewardship (DSS), and MITH. The Libraries acquired a Forensic Recovery of Evidence Device, commonly referred to as FRED, in March 2013. FRED is used to create verifiable, high quality copies of digital media without risking damage to or alteration of the original media. In 2014, having determined that the project would require sustained, dedicated attention, members of the working group assigned DSS and SCUA graduate assistants the task of testing FRED’s abilities and making recommendations on how to integrate born-digital content into a new workflow.

The graduate assistants produced the FRED Guide, a systematic beginner’s guide to using FRED, which explains how to identify and connect digital storage media, acquire disk images, and analyze those images. They also outlined a workflow in which several software systems are integrated for the management of digital objects and storage media. These systems include BitCurator, a software environment for digital forensics in Libraries; ArchivesSpace, a system for archival description and management; and Fedora, a digital repository system.

The University’s digital collections are currently in the process of migrating from Fedora 2.2 to the most recent Fedora 4. The entire collection will be migrated to the new system and the workflow will be reconsidered to include new programs for description and accessioning. In the midst of these large-scale changes in digital collections, the Libraries decided it was the right time to implement the processing of born-digital objects. Beginning with a practical, detailed guide to making digital forensics hardware and software decisions, we have proposed and continue to refine a workflow that integrates several new systems while remaining flexible in anticipation of ongoing development. We present here the results of our experimentation and our proposed workflow as well as future steps for testing and implementation.



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